Paganism and Morality By Morgan Ravenwood
By Morgan Ravenwood
In a previous article I wrote entitled “The Joys and Pitfalls of Pagan Parenting,” I repeated what my then-teenaged daughter, “Jane,” said to me in response to my attempts to keep her on the “straight and narrow”: “But, mom, it's not like you're a religious Christian or something!" As I said in the article, I spent the rest of our conversation trying to explain why you don't have to be a Christian to be religious and to believe in---and practice---leading a decent life. Fortunately, time and maturity has proven this to Jane, who now has three children of her own to teach it to.
In some of the online discussion boards I belong to, it has been mentioned repeatedly that many people believe that morality needs religion—and preferably the Christian religion--to exist, and vice versa. Of course, both myself and others, including some Atheists, have hastened to explain that this is in no wise true, presenting our own personal points of view and experiences as proof.
However, a member of one of the boards recently posed a question that demands an answer, both to ourselves as well as the outside world: “So that we may learn how to properly judge those of other religious persuasions, specifically how are Wiccans and Pagans and Atheists supposed to behave in accordance with their beliefs? How do we know when they are being true to their religious ideals, and when they are being hypocrites?”
A fair question, especially given that neither Pagans nor Atheists have the words of a prophet or set scriptures to govern their behavior. While I cannot speak for Atheists, where Paganism is concerned, it’s understandable that members of mainstream religions would find it odd, not to mention immoral, that some Pagans perform their rituals “skyclad”—i.e., in the nude--and even participate in what might be considered to be immoral sexual behavior, including homosexuality and polyamory (which simply means “more than one” lover). The fact that there is no stigma attached to these in Paganism only reinforces this belief. It is a sad fact that Pagan parents have had their children removed from their custody once their religion becomes public knowledge because Paganism has so often received a negative reputation as a religion with little to no morality. In view of this, we are almost obligated to try to demonstrate as strong a behavioral standard as possible so as to build and retain integrity for our religion.
While we’ve probably all met a few “Happy Nekkid Pagans” with seemingly looser morals than most, the majority of Pagans I have known have led far more moral lives than many of their Christian counterparts. I believe that this is due to the fact that some Christians are really only “Sunday Christians,” named so because they crawl to church on Sunday and feign repentance, only to resume their evil ways on Monday. But for us Pagans, it’s a little different; we consider ourselves to be “24/7 Pagans” because our own sense of honor and personal responsibility prohibits us from behaving in such a cavalier manner.
And what is the source of this personal responsibility, since it does not depend upon the threat of punishment from an angry god or a feeling of obligation to obey scriptures? I think the basic answer can be summed up quite nicely in three words: The Golden Rule. You know, the one that says “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The wording of this has been slightly changed but retains the same meaning in our own Wiccan Rede, which the majority of Wiccans DO adhere to: “An it harm none, do what thou will.” To do any differently would be to harm oneself if one believes, as most Pagans do, that we are all part of each other as well as the earth. Think how wonderful the world would be if everyone practiced this for even one day!
Also, it is worth noting that some Pagan traditions, which are similar to Christian denominations, have their own set of guidelines that members are expected to follow. Though they are certainly not binding to ALL Pagans, nor do all of them adhere to them, The Thirteen Goals of a Witch, especially numbers one and four through seven, give very good guidelines for ethical behavior:
The Thirteen Goals of a Witch
1) Know Thyself
2) Know Thy Craft
3) Learn, Knowledge is Power
4) Apply Knowledge with Wisdom
5) Achieve balance in your life and everything around you
6) Keep your words in good order - negativity breeds negativity -
7) Keep your thoughts in good order
8) Celebrate life and all the stages of it
9) Attune with the cycles of the Earth and Moon
10) Breathe and eat correctly
11) Exercise the body as well as the spirit
12) Meditate everyday
13) Honour the Goddess and God
It is worth remarking that many of these mirror the behavioral guidelines as set out in the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, which does not carry the stigma of immorality that Paganism does. Yet another Eastern faith belief of importance to Pagans is Karma—that which you do, comes back to you. Many Wiccans adhere to this belief, but with one notable difference: that which you do, comes back to you---THREEFOLD. Whether or not this is true, the reality of “cause and effect” is indisputable, which certainly prompts some serious consideration in making important decisions, particularly those that concern other people.
Another area in which most Pagans strongly attempt to behave responsibly is preservation of the environment. In these days, especially with a government and national population that is less concerned about preservation and more with maximum utilization, this is no easy task. And yet, believing as we do that the earth is our Mother, we each owe it to Her to do our share. Recycling, composting, and making responsible decisions about using products that are harmful to the environment are all things we can do as individuals.
Lastly, in the “Charge of the Goddess,” which quite thoroughly lays out recommendations for responsible and moral behavior, Doreen Valiente wrote these words, which are dear to the hearts of the many Wiccans who aspire to live by them:
“Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you,” and “keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever towards it, let naught stop you or turn you aside.” Surely, nobody of ANY persuasion, religious or otherwise, could aspire to any higher goals than these.